10/12/2007DOT Pushing Commuter Tax for DC
Washington, DC visitors will soon pass through toll booths as federal officials continue the push to toll existing interstate freeways.
Commuters in the nation's capital are drawing closer than ever to paying a congestion tax, thanks to lobbying from the Federal Highway Administration. The agency has created a "toolbox of potential measures" to improve congestion in the area that essentially boils down to a single proposal: toll booths on the 14th Street Bridge.
The agenda from an agency meeting held Wednesday made it clear that improving capacity by widening the existing six-lane general purpose route is not an option. Aside from listed gimmicks such as "variable message signs" and "ramp metering" -- both of which are already present on the route -- the only significant options on the table involved tolling. To advance the concept of charging commuters, survey crews in unmarked vans have been photographing motorists at various locations after they had crossed into DC on the bridge over the past several weeks. The photographs allow officials to identify individual motorists using license plate recognition software and to calculate how much revenue can be raised from non-residents.
The 14th Street Bridge serves as the main access point between Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. Motorists would have no realistic free alternatives to enter the city under such a proposal. This would, in effect, revive the District's commuter tax, a two percent income tax levy on workers who lived in neighboring states. Congress blocked the fee in 1973, but for the past thirty years, city officials have looked for new ways around the law. In November 2005, a federal appeals court panel considered a District government lawsuit designed to reinstate the tax. Judge John Roberts, now chief justice of the Supreme Court, joined in the unanimous ruling upholding the 1973 law.
The US Department of Transportation likewise pushed commuter taxation by handing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg $354.5 million so that he could set up an $8 tax on motorists entering Manhattan. This tax, following the lead of the London congestion charge, is expected to jump to $50 for the owners of politically unfavored vehicles like sports cars, luxury cars and SUVs.
View a copy of the toolbox document in a 149k PDF file at the source link below.